Memorial Hospital CEO Scott McKinnon has announced the appointment of Michelle Williams O’Donnell of Bartlett to the hospital’s board of trustees effective this month. O’Donnell, born and raised in New York City, brings a wealth of experience to the board, including work as a newspaper journalist, entrepreneur and foundation executive director.
A local resident since 2011, O’Donnell spent most of her life in big cities on both coasts. After receiving a degree in sociology from The City College of New York, she worked as a reporter at several newspapers in Buffalo and Rochester, NY, and Phoenix, AZ. In 1990, she joined the Los Angeles Times as features editor and helped launch the paper’s first Health section.
“At that time, interest in health related topics was beginning to grow,” O’Donnell recalled. “Working with some great staff writers, we were able to create a new feature section dedicated to informing the public about many healthcare issues.”
In 1997, O’Donnell became editor of the “Southern California Living” section of the Los Angeles Times. During the next few years, she managed a staff of 60 who produced the paper’s daily features section. Under her leadership, the paper introduced several new features including weekly philanthropy coverage, the Kids’ Reading Room to promote childhood literacy, and the Monday health section.
In 1999, O’Donnell’s career took a new direction when she was named executive director of the Times Mirror Foundation in Los Angeles, a role she held until 2005. In that position, she was responsible for all aspects of the foundation’s grant-making that awarded between $2 million to $8 million a year. Journalism, arts and culture, community enrichment, education, literacy and health were the main focus areas for the grants.
O’Donnell said there were great opportunities to create and fund health-related projects through the foundation. “We funded nutrition education programs in the schools that taught students how to eat healthy by understanding nutrition information. We supported teaching journalists about health and medicine so that they could better cover and report on these topics in a way the public would understand.”
In 2005, O’Donnell stepped to the other side of the grant-making process and took on the role of grant writer and associate director of projects for the Westside Family Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. She was instrumental in the center’s acquisition of its Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) designation and more than $2 million in federal grants. It’s a job she still does today, thanks to the electronic ease of internet communication.
An aging parent and a desire to leave the big city life brought O’Donnell, her husband, Martin, and their dog, Fergus, back to the east coast in 2008. While living in Durham on the New Hampshire seacoast, the O’Donnells visited the Mt. Washington Valley and, like so many others before them, fell in love with its beauty.
Shortly after moving here in 2011, O’Donnell launched The Skinny Towel & Washcloth Co., a company that manufactures and sells bath towel products that she invented and has a patent pending. “It all came about from the question of how do you wash your back,” she laughingly explained. “I was in the shower one day and I thought, ‘What I really need is a long skinny towel!’ so when I got out, I cut several of my bath towels into strips – and the company was born.”
An active volunteer in the Mt. Washington Valley community, O’Donnell is a member of the board of directors at the MWV Chamber of Commerce and White Mountain Community Health Center in Conway. She enjoys being outdoors in the New Hampshire woods in all seasons, as well as crocheting, knitting, reading and Scrabble.
Scott McKinnon said having someone with O’Donnell’s background and experience is a big asset to Memorial and to its board. “We’re happy to have Michelle because she brings a truly unique voice and vision,” he said. “I look forward to the contributions she will make to our organization.”